A Responsible Guide to Wine and Seafood Pairing
The worlds of wine and seafood are wide, but they have a lot in common when sustainability is on the table. According to the Wine Institute, U.S. wine drinkers consumed over three gallons of wine on average in 2021, while Americans overall enjoyed more than 19 pounds of seafood per person, with the consumption of farmed seafood rising rapidly.
Just as wine grapes are grown in vast conditions around the world, farming seafood can take on many forms, including special care for species in different regions and variations in farming techniques and innovations. The term merroir, inspired by terroir, has become commonplace in describing the essential, regional flavors of high-quality seafood.
“In wine, terroir is the concept that flavor is derived from a sense of place. The terrain, soil, sunlight, water or even the climate. All of the things that contribute to wine’s unique provenance beyond just the grape varietal,” says Jennifer Bushman, Chief Creative officer at Kvaroy Arctic, an ASC-certified Norwegian salmon farm.
“In French, the word mer means sea, and so the term merroir has been adopted to describe a sense of terroir for oysters and other types of fish and seafood. That each species is intimately impacted by the body of water it comes from, the algae it feeds on, the strength of currents and tides, the mineral content of the seafloor, the season and more. “
Whether you shop for wine in your local grocery aisle, specialty store or online, you’ve likely seen signs for “organic,” “biodynamic” and “sustainable” appearing more and more. These aren’t just buzzwords, but indicate techniques in the farming and winemaking process, from no pesticides or added sulfites (organic) to special soil preparations and lunar cycles (biodynamic) to emphasis on resource management and community (sustainable).
You may be wondering: what does any of this have to do with farmed seafood? More than you might think!
Just as the wine industry is evolving to explore definitions of “sustainability” and examine farming practices more closely, seafood farming – also known as aquaculture – has grown into a tech-forward, trailblazing industry with an increased focus on responsibility toward the environment, our communities, and in helping us know exactly what’s on our plate and where it came from.
“In fish and seafood, we not only have an incredible partner in the wines that we choose to pair with the dishes, but we also have a perfect partner when it comes to sustainability,” adds Bushman. “Grape growing can be an environmentally friendly practice just as rearing a fish can.”
In honor of National Wine Day, we asked the experts to break down their favorite wine and seafood pairings – including the lessons in sustainability they’ve learned along the way.
The New Way to Seafood & Wine
Chef Kiki Aranita, James Beard-nominated writer and Owner of Poi Dog Sauces, is a food lover who is serious about sustainability. “When it comes to salmon, every bit is usable and delicious,” says Aranita. “We don’t let any of it go to waste, making the skin into chips, the bones into broth, the head into curry. I have the same approach to wine – every drop is usable and delicious.”
Aranita opts to pair a very Dry Rosé or an Oregon Pinot Noir with her salmon – you can find her current favorite bottle here: 2020 Meinklang “Prosa” Dry Frizzante Rosé.
“Crispy salmon skin also goes beautifully with wine!” exclaims Aranita, keeping in line with the whole-fish theme. “My husband and I savor the salmon skins as much as salmon flesh and I toast them until totally crisp in the oven, salt them, keep them in an airtight container and sometimes, right before serving, I’ll pop them in an air fryer.”
ASC-certified Skuna Bay Salmon is a favorite among chefs for being craft raised in pristine waters and deliciously easy to cook with. “Salmon is so versatile, the possibilities are endless,” notes Skuna Bay’s General Manager Max Depondt. “Personally, I like to keep it simple and respect a nice piece of fish, so it’s actually everything else that determines the wine. A simple sear with fresh asparagus on the side? Try a Dry Riesling or minerally Sauvignon Blanc. Grilling over open fire with a lot of spice or seasoning? I’m probably thinking red wine for that.”
Depondt has a soft spot for Dry Riesling or Muscadet with salmon at the helm. “For most of my life, part of my family Christmas tradition was a seafood and pasta dinner on Christmas Eve, and my French grandfather always insisted on Muscadet from Alsace for this occasion. So I have extended it to be my go-to with many salmon dishes, although I think salmon works with most types of wine if you really want it to.”
Depondt nominates the Oysterman collaboration as a current favorite. A portion of sales revenue from this stainless steel-aged Loire Valley Muscadet is donated to various conservation organizations dedicated to revitalizing coastal ecosystems through oyster bed replenishment. It’s a win-win!
Wine and seafood can both be a bit intimidating for newcomers, yet Depondt warns against shying away.
“Salmon is really easy to cook – you can do it! This is by far the biggest question Skuna Bay customers have in retail situations. I am always preaching that you don’t have to be a professional to cook salmon and enjoy the outcome.”
Depondt offers additional encouragement: “If you are reading this, thank you for making the effort to learn about sustainable aquaculture. Now go tell your friends! Our future food and climate security literally depend on it. Maybe you can cook them a tasty dish of high-quality, ASC-certified salmon to spark the discussion.” Get started with Skuna Bay’s chef-approved collection of easy salmon recipes.
If you’re not familiar with kanpachi, we’ve got you covered. This member of the Amberjack family has a clean, fresh, and subtle flavor profile with firm flesh and slightly pink coloration that is prized by chefs, making it ideal for sushi preparations and fine dining. The Hawaiian Kanpachi™ raised by Blue Ocean Mariculture, ASC’s first certified finfish farm in the U.S., is no stranger to wine.
“I always recommend people drink the wine they like, no matter the food. But it is true that white wines go best with light, flaky fish,” offers Dick Jones, CEO of Blue Ocean Mariculture and wine afficionado. “Our Hawaiian Kanpachi is a bit heartier and pairs nicely with a Pinot Noir. If I want something lighter, I would pair our fish with a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley or New Zealand, or perhaps a cold, crisp Rosé. All that being said, I’ve enjoyed a hearty Cabernet Sauvignon with kanpachi, it’s all about the experience!”
When it comes to kanpachi, there is plenty to experience. Jones’s go-to dish is Kanpachi Puttanesca. “I make the sauce separately, then quickly sear the kanpachi loin and place it in the puttanesca. I then place it in the oven for 15 minutes. The preparation matches nicely with a big Cab, which is my favorite. I’m all about New World wines, and I love Napa Valley, so I might uncork a BV Cabernet Sauvignon with this dish.”
For those in a lighter mood, Hawaiian Kanpachi Piccata may be just the ticket. Jones cooks the loin piccata-style using white wine as the base of the lemon-butter-caper sauce. He then pairs the same white wine with the dish when serving. Using wine in the sauce ties the whole dish together.
“I am a big fan of Honig Wines,” adds Jones. “They are a family-run winery that cares about sustainable production, including a lens on packaging, energy use and water use. They produce great wines, including a clean, crisp Sauvignon Blanc that pairs so nicely with Hawaiian Kanpachi!”
A familiar player on the seafood scene, shrimp can be suited to every palate and there is almost always a wine that fits right alongside it. ASC recently partnered with Coastal Seafoods serving up ASC-certified shrimp tacos at the Twin Cities GrillFest. Naturally, we tapped their Director of New Business Development, Kelly Cosgrove – a former wine & spirits director – to get the skinny on shrimp.
Her go-to for this delectable crustacean? Albariño or bubbles (Champagne, Cremant, or Cava).
“Albariño generally is bright citrus with a little honeysuckle and can be medium-bodied but with a great acidity and finishes with some salinity, which I find goes well with many shrimp dishes,” says Cosgrove.
“For bubbles, I generally stick to a drier style of bubbles, made by methode champenoise. While the weight and flavors can change by producer, the lively bubbles and acidity make it an easy pairing. Plus, I always feel a little fancy with bubbles.”
Cosgrove tells us that Shrimp Ceviche with a glass of Cava is her perfect pick. “When at home I prefer to use Del Pacifico’s ASC-certified raw shell-off shrimp, and I add a little Aji Amarillo paste to help give it heat and a little more of that authentic Peruvian flair (both products are available in Coastal Seafoods retail stores). It pairs great with a glass of Cava that I find refreshing, fun, and a great way to start any amazing meal.”
But that’s not all – Cosgrove has the classics covered, too. “I also love Shrimp Scampi, one of the few dishes my mom liked to cook, paired with a Vermentino. Again, I prefer the flavor of the ASC-certified Del Pacifico shrimp dripping in butter, or Ashman’s Shrimp Scampi marinade which elevates a good scampi and expedites getting the shrimp to the table. That’s hard to beat and the Vermentino tends to be medium to full-bodied while remaining crisp and citrusy, which stands up to the sauce and helps to balance the richness of all that beautiful butter!”
Cosgrove also likes to consider where the wine is made. If it’s near the sea – like Rias Baixas in Spain, parts of Provence in France, Santorini in Greece – there’s a good chance seafood is a large part of the cuisine and naturally pairs well.
“I also think about the type of seafood I’m eating and try to go like-with-like – an oily fish, I’ll generally look for a fuller bodied white wine (Chardonnay, Viognier, Marsanne, etc.), or lighter bodied reds (Pinot Noir, Gamay, Frappato); crisp oysters tend to be great with minerally and higher acid wines (Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc). But, bubbles are always a perfect pairing in my opinion!”
She offers two big pieces of advice for diving into wine and seafood:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and for recommendations – I do it all the time! Letting either the server or wine merchant know what you’re cooking or ordering, what you like to drink, and a price range, helps them give their best recommendations. Wine lists and selections are always changing, and the people working will be more familiar with their lists, and most will know some facts about the winemakers, flavor profiles, and how they produce the wine in terms of sustainability.
- Drink what you like! Do you want to drink a full-bodied juicy Zinfandel while eating oysters because that’s what you like? Do it and don’t let anyone make you feel bad. At the end of the day, you’re the one enjoying the seafood and wine, and if it makes you happy, that’s really all that matters.
Barramundi (a.k.a. Asian Sea Bass)
Barramundi is a hearty yet delicate white fish native to Australia and the Indo-Pacific. This ancient species is renowned for its versatility, offering a clean, buttery flavor and meaty texture that appeals to seafood experts and novices alike.
Australis Aquaculture (The Better Fish®) is an ASC-certified producer spearheading the global emergence of best-in-class, ocean-farmed barramundi as a healthy, environmentally-friendly fish for the future. Barramundi has the highest omega-3s of any white fish, is lean yet protein packed, and plays well with a wide selection of wines. Even better, Australis farms their barramundi in a way that is climate-smart and supports the recovery of wild fisheries.
So what to drink with this up-and-coming seafood star? Julie Qiu, Marketing Director for The Better Fish®, has some ideas.
“I’ve been on a Spanish white wine kick! So Albariño, Verdejo, and Txakoli. I had the opportunity to visit Txomin Etxaniz last summer and love their Txakoli.”
Qiu recommends a Spicy Corn Roasted Barramundi Ceviche – “an easy and fun summer dish to pair with a sparkling white. I make it at home using this recipe.”
The Better Fish® teamed up with Blue Apron’s Culinary Director on a wine pairing blog that deep dives into the flavor profile of barramundi and its spirited counterparts. Click here to learn more about How to Choose the Right Wine for Barramundi.
Qiu urges those new to pairing wine with barramundi, “leave your assumptions at the door and try unconventional ideas out. It may sound weird, but the results may surprise you (in a good way)!”
Seaweed and More
Seaweed may not be the first seafood that comes to mind when you’re uncorking a bottle, but it would be impossible to ignore this trending superfood. Jennifer Bushman is a huge proponent of serving seaweed – check out her Top 10 Ways to Eat Seaweed Beyond Sushi for inspiration.
“When it comes to pairing seaweed with wine,” says Bushman, “the species of seaweed and the preparation will best determine the wine that goes with it. Generally, I have found that a dry crisp sparkling wine will work well. One that has not been aged too long on the lees. I like the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs, made from 100% Chardonnay. The other option is to have a wine that contrasts with the seaweed. Like in the case of a spicy food, a pairing that would go well with the seaweed would be the Dough Wines Sauvignon Blanc.”
Bushman advises all seafood lovers to choose their own “House” wine. “For us, it is the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs or Rosé. We keep several bottles on ice in the fridge to pour after work or to hand carry to a special occasion! This Blanc de Blancs has aromas of Granny Smith apple, lemon-lime and even a fresh baked bread. While this wine can be enjoyed by itself as an apéritif, it is perfect with fresh oysters and other shellfish, crab cakes, ceviche and grilled sea bass. It is also delicious with lemon chicken and Thai curries. Serve with aged Gouda or other hard cheeses, and as a counterpoint to soft triple crèmes.”
Her favorite dishes to pair?
“Creating a great fish taco has been the envy of many cooks, but it’s actually quite simple! Start out with a beautiful fillet – one of my absolute favorites is ASC-certified Kvaroy Arctic salmon, a sustainably-raised salmon from the Arctic Circle. Bread it cold and fry it just before you’re ready to place it into the taco shell. Serve this with your favorite coleslaw and the kelp lime mayonnaise for a perfect finish. It pairs well with either a sparkling wine or a lovely Sauvignon Blanc!” Find Bushman’s taco recipe here.
In keeping with the unexpected, Bushman also suggests accenting Kvaroy Arctic’s popular ASC-certified salmon burgers with a tasteful seaweed-and-wine combo. “I love to take a kelp puree and blend it with mayonnaise and a bit of fresh lemon juice. Fry or sauté the burger and serve on a toasted bun with all of your favorite toppings, the kelp mayo and a Pinot Noir, preferably from the central coast of California!”
Try this quick and tasty salmon burger recipe with a glass of 2017 Kosta Browne Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir.
Eating and Drinking Responsibly
Like wine, seafood that is responsibly farmed with care demonstrates the best of what we can cultivate on the farm, in our communities and at the table. Being conscientious about our choices does not mean we have to sacrifice flavor, quality or our health.
“Start with what you already know and enjoy,” suggests Jones. “Pair the wine you like most with your favorite seafood, and next time, if the wine you like most is a red, try a white! You’ll begin to learn what you truly like, and what wine goes best with your favorite seafood. Once you’ve got the pairing figured out, you can research how your wine and seafood act as responsible advocates for sustainable practices. An easy way to start is to look for the ASC logo!”
Visit our recipes page to explore meal ideas for all of these ASC-certified species and more!